This blog will continue my series on the frequent trade off of the economy versus the environment.
One of the places where this trade off is most apparent is China, where rapid – and often irresponsible – economic development has generated a scathing amount of pollution in the form of waste water, smog, and deforestation. While Chinese government officials claim to have the environment in mind, economic development clearly is the primary concern.
Within the last half century, China has emerged from being a second-world country and has transformed itself into a first-class world power. Impressive mobilizations of industrial expansion and development, and economic reforms have been at the forefront of this emergence. One of the projects that has helped China in these regards is the Three Gorges Dam, located along the mighty Yangtze River.
This massive dam, over a mile long and over six hundred feet tall, when completed in 2011 will have the capacity to provide power to nearly 17 million homes.
The Three Gorges Dam has cost the equivalent of twenty six billion USD, but the financial costs are more than worth noting. Due to the dam’s affect on river water flow, pollution in the river will increase beyond its already astronomical level. In terms of biodiversity, the dam has destroyed the habitat for the Siberian Crane and has finished off all known specimens of the Baiji, the Yangtze River dolphin. The dam has also increased the risk for landslides, and should an earthquake strike the dam, the ensuing floods could destroy nearby cities. Not to mention that amount of pollution the construction of the dam created.
In spite of all these negative aspects, the Three Gorges Dam will provide thousands of mega watts of power for a minimal fee to people who, in some places, are completely without. In time it will wholly revolutionize Chinese energy capacity and will cut down on coal and fossil fuel emissions from the country. In a nation as populated as China, these steps are huge indeed. People living in complete poverty will now be able to have access to power.
However, given the pros and cons, at what point does humanity draw the line between economics and the environment? As of June 2008, 1.24 million citizens were forced from their homes and relocated to higher ground. The reservoir created by the dam flooded around 1,300 archaeological and important cultural sites. Given all the environmental and cultural costs, are the benefits worth it? There are very real advantages to this dam, but is it impossible to draw comparisons between them and the cons?